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Wisconsin flavor in S. Korea
United States Matt Hamilton sweeps the ice as his teammate and sister Becca watches, during a mixed double curling match against Olympic Athletes from Russia Anastasia Bryzgalova and Aleksandr Krushelnitckii at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Feb. 8, which was Feb. 7 in Wisconsin. (AP photo)
MONROE - In her curling bag, McFarland native and resident Nina Roth keeps a Superman necklace her grandmother gave her for good luck.

Roth, 29, a two-time national champion, is hoping the necklace will bring good luck to the U.S. curling team as they embark on a challenge of trying to win a gold medal in the Pyeongchang Olympics.

With three McFarland natives set to participate in the Olympics, curling is taking center stage and Wisconsinites are in the middle of it.

The trio of McFarland natives representing the U.S. are Roth, Becca Hamilton and Matt Hamilton. All three are McFarland graduates who are members of the Madison Curling Club. Roth, 29, is a 2006 McFarland alumnus. She grew up with Becca and her brother Matt at the curling club.

"I feel honored to be representing my country at the Olympics," Roth said. "My teammates and I have worked towards this for so long and to finally have accomplished this life-long dream is an amazing feeling."

The two Hamiltons began their quest for gold in the first ever mixed doubles Wednesday in South Korea, beating th Olympic Athletes of Russia 9-3. The siblings are U.S. national champions in mixed doubles, which is one of four new events being introduced at the Olympics. 

Becca qualified for the Olympics on Roth's team in November and Matt qualified on the men's team hours later. Both were named USA Curling's top athlete in their gender.

"Becca and I have spent a lot of time training in the gym and on the ice," Roth said. "It's great to have a friend and teammate who lives in the same town as me and who shares the same goals."

Roth is the skip of the U.S. women's curling team. She led her team to fifth place at the 2017 World Championships and is making her Olympic debut. She didn't start curling until she was 10 years old. She went with her Girl Scout troop, which was led by Roth's mother, to the Madison Curling Club.

"I was immediately hooked," she said. "Then I had the opportunity of meeting a few Olympic curlers who were members of the Madison Curling Club. I admired them and knew early on that I wanted to train for the Olympics."

Roth has high expectations for her Olympic debut.

"Our team has the ability to make it to the top of the podium in Korea," she said. "We've trained very hard and traveled the world competing against the best teams in the world. If we can relax and stay focused, we will bring home some hardware."

Becca, 27, is the 2014 women's national champion and is a two-time U.S. junior national champion. She won the U.S. Olympic Team trials and with her brother, won the mixed doubles team trials. Becca is the lead on Roth's team. Matt is also a member of John Shuster's men's U.S. curling team. Shuster, a four-time Olympian, is the skip for the men's team, and he won bronze in 2006 in Turin, Italy.

Instead of 10 ends of eight stone throws per team like in a typical curling match, mixed doubles has eight ends and five throws. Each team also places a stone in or near the house, the rings that serve as the target.

Roth compares curling to other familiar games.

"It's like shuffleboard on ice with the strategy of chess," she said. "It takes a lot more physical coordination and strength than it appears."

The Olympic curling fever has hit Monroe. Jeff Maliszewski, a 2003 Monroe High School graduate who is now the president of the Alpine Curling Club in Monroe, started curling when he was a junior in high school. He has been a member of the curling club for 12 years.

"It's pretty neat for that to happen so close to home," Maliszewski said of having three Wisconsin residents representing the U.S. "There have been a lot of great curlers who have come from the Madison Curling Club who have gone to the Olympics or gone to qualifying. I think the mixed doubles team will have a shot to medal. The men's team will give it a go. They have a lot of competition."

The Alpine Curling Club has 120 members. Maliszewski said the club has more than 20 new members this year compared to last year.

"We saw a spurt in our membership after the last Olympics," Maliszewski said. "I don't know if you can attribute it to the Olympics or the general growth of the sport."

There are 12 middle school-aged members who compete on three full bonspiel teams.

There will be a lot of support back home for the three McFarland natives in the Olympics. 

Bob Rufi has been an Alpine Curling Club member for 45 years and served as the ice maker for 42 years before retiring last summer. Rufi is excited to see the curlers from the Badger state carry on the tradition.

"I think it's great for the sport of curling," Rufi said of its inclusion in the Olympics since 1998. "I think the Olympics has brought in a lot of new members into the sport all over the U.S. People in the Alpine Curling Club have got a lot younger."

The Alpine Curling Club has been catering to the sports' enthusiasts since the club started in 1963. It's customary to shake hands before and after each curling match.

After a match, Rufi said participants usually eat dinner together or go out for drinks.

"It's the camaraderie that keeps curling together," he said.

Rufi has been to Europe and Canada for curling bonspiels.

"It got me out in the world a little bit," he said of the sport. "I've met a lot of different people in curling I wouldn't have met if I would have stayed on the farm."